Federal Agencies and Public Health Experts Refuse to Declare Autism a National Health Crisis
-by the World Mercury Project Team
Enough Already: Autism Needs to Be Declared a National Health Crisis
It is both astonishing and insulting that, nearly three decades in, federal agencies and public health experts persist in denying and refusing to tackle our nation’s staggering autism epidemic.
As the above table illustrates, the ADDM program has one major shortcoming, which is the lag time between data collection, analysis and publication of prevalence data. For example, the data published in 2014 took four years to analyze and captured ASD prevalence for the cohort born 12 years earlier (i.e., children born in 2002 who were eight years old in 2010). CDC did not report the prevalence estimates for children born in 1992 until 2007.
The ADDM program has other acknowledged limitations as well, including:
- Constant changes in the number and location of surveillance sites
- A reliance on educational records that are not consistently available at all surveillance sites (which would tend to underestimate true prevalence)
- Failure to differentiate between ASD subgroups as an indicator of severity (but with differentiation by IQ, with 70 as the cutoff)
For these reasons, some observers believe that data routinely published by the National Center for Health Statistics moreaccurately represent the true autism picture. The Center’s prevalence data are based on parental reports from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).
As of 2014, NHIS data indicated that 1 in 45 children aged 3-17 years had been diagnosed with ASD (2.24%), and by 2016 this number was 1 in 36 (2.76%)—a 23% increase over the two-year period—and a far cry from the 1 in 550 reported from other data sources in 1990.
A health care and education burden
The CDC is due to release its latest ADDM surveillance numbers. Will our federal health agencies continue to downplay the numbers’ significance, as they have done each time the data show a rise in ASD prevalence? Or will they finally sound an alarm and make it a top priority to find out what is causing this epidemic in our children?
At a societal level, ASD imposes a substantial economic burden, especially on the health care and education sectors.